Steve Agbota, [email protected]
Nigeria introduced the single window concept at its seaports in 2006, to enable swift movement of goods and services in the ports after it was developed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in 2005.
The concept was actually put in place then to simplify, harmonise and standardise international trade procedures and associated information flows between trade and government and within government itself.
Through its UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), UNECE defined Single Window as “a facility that allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardised information and documents with a single entry point to fulfill all import, export, and transit-related regulatory requirements.
To adopt the system, the Nigeria Customs Service under its former Comptroller General, Dikko Abdulahi in 2013, launched the single window platform as part of effort to facilitate the clearance procedures of both import and export goods.
Today, however, it is worrisome that Nigeria is still struggling to finetune and implement the single window system due to selfish interest of some government officials and agencies stationed at the ports to oversee revenue collection.
Ironically, smaller countries like Ghana, Togo and Senegal already have single window platforms working, while Nigeria is yet struggling to implement it which is why cargo clearance is still subjected to 100 per cent physical examinations at the ports.
But the absence of a national single window platform at Nigeria’s seaports is reportedly costing the Federal Government a whopping N1.08trillion in customs revenue annually.
To curb this painful leakage, President Muhammadu Buhari recently issued a 90-days ultimatum to the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Transportation to ensure that the National Single Window project is achieved at all Nigerian ports within the timeframe.
Stakeholders who spoke to Daily Sun however said that the two agencies in the maritime sector, namely the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) under the Ministry of Transportation and the Nigeria Customs Service under Ministry of Finance, are already jostling for who would be the implementing agency for the project.
They said the single window cannot be achieved if the Nigeria Customs Service is still carrying out 100 per cent examination of cargoes without a scanning machine. Moreso, for the Single Window project to be successful in Nigeria, it must be linked with the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN), scheme and implemented together.
Daily Sun learnt that the tussles between NPA and Customs has caused a delay in the implementation of the single window platform in the Nigeria because the two agencies are fighting for who should take the glory after the policy comes on stream. Stakeholders however believes that the Nigeria Customs Service is supposed to be the implementing agency because it is the lead agency in the port while NPA has been reduced to a landlord status.
Speaking with Daily Sun in an interview, a maritime analyst and President of National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr. Lucky Amiwero, urged the government to call on experts to advise it on the single window, adding that the project is not a platform but it is a process which is where the government is getting it wrong all the time.
He advised: “The government should go and look for experts who understand this things, who have been there to really put it through. Government has not done the processes because single window is a process and when your process is not done properly you cannot get the right result.
“What is single window? Single window is known as single administration, single transaction, single process and single delivery. You cannot get those things when you are not done the the process of harmonising the whole agencies. Every agency is working at their own areas. I don’t understand why government will sit in Abuja and start talking about single window. Single window is a process that is called one-stop-shop because it is not a platform you see in the country.”
He said a single window is one-stop-shop like what they have in Singapore, South Korea, Senegal and so many other countries, stressing that Nigeria does not have any single window system.
As at now, he hinted that Nigeria has not audited it platform, because it does not have transit module. He said ideally, Nigeria ought to be a transit country, which is why government needs experts to put a lot of thing in place to achieve the single window.
According to him, Ghana has satellite tracking system, transit module, national guarantee bond scheme, but Nigeria doesn’t have any of these things here and yet government is talking about single window when the process has not been putting right.
Also, commenting, a Customs broker and chieftain of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Joe Sanni, said the simple thing to do is to automate all the whole processes, by bringing in scanners and letting them have direct access into that single one stop shop window.
He explained: “We have recommended this thing long time ago when Prince Shittu was a member of Presidential Task team to look into the ports crisis all over the country. We travelled everywhere and I was with him. The singular problem limitating the implementation of the system otherwise, is lack of trust among agencies of government. They don’t trust each other at all and they want to tell each other lies because the whole gamut of the process is that I want to take the glory for it.
“Even among Customs Commands, they don’t want anything that belongs to one Command to go to other commands.
Meanwhile, it is one Customs. We are talking about one government, working for one nation and one people. Why can’t the agencies be it Police, NDLEA, NPA, and all of them work together as one? But everybody wants to be saying I’m the champion, I’m the one that discover it, and it can’t work like that.”
If Nigeria cannot practice single window, he said there is no way the country can up its revenue because all these leakages, people are benefiting from it .
He said there is still pysical examination of cargo clearance due to lack of scanners, urging government to equip the whole place with scanning machines such that as the cargoes are coming down from the sea, they are going through the system for clearance.
He said if other countries like Ghana, Senegal, Togo could adopt single window concept, why is it something difficult to do in Nigeria?